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You are on page 1of 102

Shah, Saloni

2010

School of Mathematics

And by contacting: The MIMS Secretary

School of Mathematics

The University of Manchester

Manchester, M13 9PL, UK

ISSN 1749-9097

An Exploration of ! Relation"ip

Saloni Shah, ID 7177223

University of Manchester

May 2010

! 1

TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S

Preface! 3

1.0 Music and Mathematics: An Introduction to their Relationship! 6

2.0 Historical Connections Between Mathematics and Music! 9

2.1 Music Theorists and Mathematicians: Are they one in the same?! 9

2.2 Why are mathematicians so fascinated by music theory?! 15

3.0 The Mathematics of Music! 19

3.1 Pythagoras and the Theory of Music Intervals! 19

3.2 The Move Away From Pythagorean Scales! 29

3.3 Rameau Adds to the Discovery of Pythagoras! 32

3.4 Music and Fibonacci! 36

3.5 Circle of Fifths! 42

4.0 Messiaen: The Mathematics of his Musical Language! 45

4.1 Modes of Limited Transposition! 51

4.2 Non-retrogradable Rhythms! 58

5.0 Religious Symbolism and Mathematics in Music! 64

5.1 Numbers are Godʼs Tools! 65

5.2 Religious Symbolism and Numbers in Bachʼs Music! 67

5.3 Messiaenʼs Use of Mathematical Ideas to Convey Religious Ones! 73

6.0 Musical Mathematics: The Artistic Aspect of Mathematics! 76

6.1 Mathematics as Art! 78

6.2 Mathematical Periods! 81

6.3 Mathematics Periods vs. Musical Periods! 92

6.4 Is further analysis needed?! 94

7.0 Conclusion! 95

Sources of Figures and Tables! 97

References! 100

! 2

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Preface

Music has always been an important part of my life. I have listened to, studied, played and

enjoyed different genres of music in different settings. Music is instrumental in my practice

therapy and prayer. I have played the piano throughout my life, and was a viola player in a

community orchestra for several years. In my childhood, Saturday at the Symphony was

theory and music history. Music has become one of my passions.

Mathematics is a discipline I have always found challenging and interesting. I fully began

to appreciate the subject in high school when I did a project about fractals. It was here that

I saw mathematics is a beautiful, complex subject, involving far more than what we learn in

school. The presence of mathematics is everywhere! It is in nature, we use it daily, and its

We did not learn about the rich history behind the mathematics. As a result, I decided that I

appreciation for this complex subject. I had a slight understanding at this stage, that

mathematics and music were linked. I knew that mathematics has influenced music, but

beyond that I knew little else. This project would allow me to explore this connection.

When I started my research, I was shocked and amazed to discover how much information

was available about the relationship between mathematics and music, and how much

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mathematics and music is steeped in history; I loved reading about its Ancient Greek

origins. This connection was at least two thousand years old, and spans different cultures

and civilizations. Studying music as a part of mathematics was once part of mathematics

education. This made me think that it truly is an important relationship to study! I quickly

discovered that the connection between mathematics and music is huge, with a wealth of

information. In this project, I have simply given a snapshot on some many areas I think are

interesting and important. I have also approached my research with a Western view; I

research can be done for the connection between mathematics and music from other

The more I read and researched, the more I thought how important it is to study and

understand how mathematics relates to other disciplines, and to bring mathematics into as

many fields as possible. I want to eventually teach primary school (I begin my Post

mathematics education for very young children. I think that when a child is young, they

need to learn mathematics in new and exciting ways. Children need to be shown

mathematics has many applications to real life, and that it can be a challenging, exciting

and fascinating subject. With this project, if I can expand my knowledge and interest in

mathematics, and improve my understanding of how itʼs used in a greater contest, then

perhaps when I teach children, I can show children how exciting this subject can be.

Perhaps I can bring music into my mathematical teaching, making the subject more

relevant and enjoyable for those in early childhood. This project has two fold meaning for

me: to increase my knowledge and excitement for mathematics and music education and

study, so that eventually, I can increase the excitement of others for these two beautiful

subjects.

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I would finally like to take this opportunity to thank Prof. Plymen for his guidance

throughout this project. I enjoyed our discussions on this subject, and have a great deal of

respect for your knowledge. I also want to thank my parents. Itʼs because of them and the

opportunities and guidance they have provided for me throughout my life that has ignited

my love of mathematics and music, and really my love of learning and discovery.

Saloni Shah

May 2010

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Relationship

Mathematics, in some form, has been in existence since ancient civilizations. The Inca,

Egyptians and Babylonians all used mathematics, yet it was not studied for its own sake

until Greek Antiquity (600-300 BC) [1]. Mathematics is a vast subject that has been

approached, used and studied in different ways and forms for hundreds of years, by

different cultures and civilizations. It is a subject that constantly changes, and is thus

difficult to define. In the twenty-first century, a western view of mathematics is that it is the

abstract science of shape, space, change, number, structure and quantity [2].

Mathematicians seek out new patterns and new conjecture using rigorous deduction. They

use abstract thinking, logic and reasoning to problem solve. Mathematics can be studied

for its own pleasure, or can be applied to explain phenomena in other disciplines.

Physicists, for example, use mathematical language to describe the natural world.

In comparison, music is the art or science of combining vocal or instrumental (or both)

sounds to produce beauty of form and harmony [3]. It is an intrinsic aspect of human

existence. Like mathematics, music has been an integral aspect of cultures throughout

history. Music is an artistic way of expressing emotions and ideas, and is often used to

express and portray oneʼs self and identity. Different forms of music are studied,

Music theory is a beautiful subject that has been studied for thousands of years. Music

theory is simply the study of how music works and the properties of music. It may include

the analysis of any statement, belief or conception of or about music. Often music theorists

will study the language and notation of music. They seek to identify patterns and structures

found in composers techniques, across or within genres, and of historical periods.

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Comparing the basic general definitions of mathematics and music implies that they are

two very distinct disciplines. Mathematics is a scientific study, full of order, countability and

calculability. Music, on the other hand, is thought to be artistic and expressive. The study

of these two disciplines, though seemingly different, however, are linked and have been for

over two thousand years. Music itself is indeed very mathematical, and mathematics is

inherent to many basic ideas in music theory. Music theorists, like experts in other

explains how strings vibrate at certain frequencies, and sound waves are used to describe

shape to resonate with their strings in a mathematical fashion. Modern technology used to

make recordings on a compact disc (CD) or a digital video disc (DVD) also rely on

mathematics. The relationship between mathematics and music is complex and constantly

This report aims to give an overview of this intricate relationship between mathematics and

music by examining its different aspects. The history of the study of mathematics and

music is intertwined, so it is only natural to begin this report by briefly outlining this

relationship. Questions and problems arising in music theory have often been solved by

investigations into mathematics and physics throughout history. The second section will

discuss some of the mathematics of sound and music. Conversely, mathematical ideas

and language have often directly influenced concepts of music theory. There are many

examples of composers who use mathematical techniques throughout their work. The

third section. The fourth section will discuss how music often has a religious connotation

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and message, and religious composers often use music to express their ideas and beliefs.

This idea will be supported with an analysis of the work of Bach and the techniques of

Messiaen. Finally, the report will conclude with analysis of an argument by an American

academic Jim Henle who analyze artistic aspects of mathematics, a subject traditionally

deemed to be a science. He presents an argument to explain mathematicians fascination

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This section briefly explains the historical connection between mathematics and music.

The two disciplines have been interlinked throughout history since Ancient Greek

academics began their theoretical study; since antiquity, mathematicians have often been

music theorists. The fascination that mathematicians have with music will then be

discussed.

For about a millennium, from 600 BC, Ancient Greece was one of the worldʼs leading

civilizations. The ideas and knowledge produced at this time have had a lasting influence

on modern western civilizations. The “Golden Age” in Greek antiquity was approximately

450 BC, and much of what constitutes western culture today began its invention then [1].

Brilliant Greek academics contributed a wealth of knowledge about music, philosophy,

With the Ancient Greeks came the dawn of serious mathematics. Before their time,

mathematics was a craft [1]. It was studied and used to solve everyday problems. For

example, farmers might implement mathematical tools to help them lay their fields in the

most economical way possible. In Greek antiquity, mathematics became an art. It was

studied purely for the sake of knowledge and enjoyment [1]. Philosophers and

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Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle were three very clever academics, and very influential

figures when detailing the historic connection between mathematics and music [4].

Pythagoras was born in the Classical Greek period (approximately 600 BC to 300 BC)

when Greece was made of individual city-states. A dictator governed the island on which

he lived, so he fled to Italy. It was there that he founded a religion (often called a cult) of

were mystical. They had elaborate rituals and rules based on mathematical ideas. To the

followers, the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 were divine and sacred. They believed reality was

constructed out of these numbers and 1, 2, 3 and 4 were deemed the building blocks of

life [1]. Pythagoras was instrumental in the origin of mathematics as purely a theoretical

science. In fact, the theories and results that were developed by Pythagoreans were not

intended for practical use or for applications. It was forbidden for members of the

Pythagorean school of thought to even earn money from teaching mathematics [1].

Throughout history, numbers have always been the building block of mathematics [2].

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Plato was a Pythagorean who lived after the Golden Age of Ancient Greece. Plato believed

that mathematics was the core of education [1]. He founded the first university in Greece,

the Academy. Mathematics was so central to the curriculum, that above the doors of the

university, the words “Let no man enter through these doors if ignorant of geometry” were

written [1]. From antiquity, many famous Greek mathematicians attended Platoʼs

university.

Figure 2: A fresco from 1509 by Raphael depicting the School of Athens. Aristotle (right)

gestures down to the earth, representing his belief in knowledge through empirical

observation and experience. He holds a book of ethics in his hand. Plato (left) gestures to

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Aristotle, the teacher of Alexander the Great, is an example of a famous student of Plato.

Aristotle was a man of great genius and the father of his own school. He studied every

subject possible at the time. His writings had vast subject matter, including music, physics,

poetry, theatre, logic, rhetoric, government, politics, ethics and zoology. Together with Plato

and Socrates (Platoʼs teacher), Aristotle was one of the most important founding figures in

western philosophy. He was one of the first to create a comprehensive system detailing

ideas of morality, philosophy, aesthetics, logic, science, politics and metaphysics [2].

A natural question now arises: why are these ancient figures so important in understanding

the relationship between mathematics and music? The answer is simple. It was these

early Greek teachers and their schools of thought (the schools of Pythagoras, Plato, and

Aristotle) who not only began to study mathematics and music, but considered music to be

a part of mathematics [4]. Ancient Greek mathematics education was comprised of four

sections: number theory, geometry, music and astronomy; this division of mathematics into

four sub-topics is called a quadrivium [4]. Itʼs been previously stated that the ideas and

works of the Ancient Greeks were influential and had had a lasting effect throughout

history. Those of music and mathematics were no different. The four way division of

mathematics, which detailed music should be studied as part of mathematics, lasted until

the end of the middle ages (approximately 1500 AD) in European culture [4].

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The Renaissance (meaning rebirth), a period from about the fourteenth to seventeenth

centuries, began in Florence in the late middle ages and spread throughout Europe. The

Renaissance was a cultural movement, characterized by the resurgence of learning based

on classical sources, and a gradual but widespread educational reform. Education became

heavily focused rediscovering Ancient Greek classical writing about cultural knowledge

and literature [1]. Music was no longer studied as a field of mathematics. Instead,

theoretical music became an independent field, yet strong links with mathematics were

maintained [4].

It is interesting to note that during and after the Renaissance, musicians were music

theorists, not performers. Music research and teaching were occupations considered more

prestigious than music composing or performing [4]. This contrasts earlier times in history.

Pythagoras, for example, was a geometer, number theorist and musicologist, but also a

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In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, several of the most prominent and significant

mathematicians were also music theorists [4]. René Descartes, for example, had many

mathematical achievements include creating the field of analytic geometry, and developing

Cartesian geometry. His first book, Compendium Musicale (1618) was about music theory

[4]. Marin Mersenne, a mathematician, philosopher and music theorist is often called the

(1635) and Traité de lʼHarmonie Universelle (1636) [4]. Mersenne also corresponded on

the subject with many other important mathematicians including Descartes, Isaac

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John Wallis, an English mathematician in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, published

editions of the works of Ancient Greeks and other academics, especially those about

music and mathematics [4]. His works include fundamental works of Ptolemy (2 AD), of

Porhyrius (3 AD), and of Bryennius who was a fourteenth century Byzantine musicologist

[4]. Leonhard Euler was the preeminent mathematician of the eighteenth century and one

of the greatest mathematicians of all time. While he contributed greatly to the field of

mathematics, he also was a music theorist. In 1731, Euler published Tentamen Novae

Theoriae Musicae Excertissimis Harmoniae Princiliis Dilucide Expositae [4]. In 1752, Jean

Pratique Suivant les Principes de M. Rameau and in 1754, Réflexions sur la Musique [4].

DʼAlembert was a French mathematician, physicist and philosopher who was instrumental

2.2 WHY A R E M AT H E M AT I C I A N S S O FA S C I N AT E D B Y

MUSIC THEORY ?

Mathematicians fascination with music theory are explained clearly and precisely by Jean

Philippe Rameau in Traité de lʼHarmonie Réduite à ses Principes Naturels (1722). Some

musicologists and academics argue that Rameau was the greatest French music theorist

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S. Shah, 7177223

“Music is a science which must have determined rules. These rules must be

drawn from a principle which should be evident, and this principle cannot be

known without the help of mathematics. I must confess that in spite of all the

nevertheless only with the help of mathematics that my ideas became

disentangled and that light has succeeded to a certain darkness of which I was

1“La musique est une science qui doit avoir des règles certaines; ces règles doivent être tirées dʼun principe

évident, et ce principe ne peut guère nous être connu sans le secours des mathématiques. Aussi dois-je

avouer que, nonobstant toute lʼexpérience que je pouvais mʼêtre acquise dans la musique pour lʼavour

pratiquée pendant une assez longue suite de temps, ce nʼest cependant que par le secours de

mathématiques que mes idées se sont débrouillées, et que la lumière y a succédé à une certaine obscurité

dont je ne mʼapercevais pas auparavant.”

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Mathematicians have been attracted to the study of music theory since the Ancient

Greeks, because music theory and composition require an abstract way of thinking and

contemplation [4],[5]. This method of thinking is similar to that required for pure

mathematical thought [4],[5]. Milton Babbitt, a composer who also taught mathematics and

music theory at Princeton University, wrote that “a musical theory should be statable as

connected set of axions, definitions and theorems, the proofs of which are derived by

Those who create music use symbolic language as well as a rich system of notation,

including diagrams [4]. In the case of European music, from the eleventh century, the

diagrams used in music are similar to mathematical graphs of discrete functions in two-

dimensional Cartesian coordinates [5]. The x-axis represents time, while the y-axis

y = pitch

x = time

Figure 6: A musical graph. The time that has elapsed as the music is played is

represented by the x-axis. The pitch of the notes are given by the y-axis, with extra

information being provided by the key signature. The notes themselves represent the

coordinates.

The Cartesian graph used to represent music was used by music theorists before they

were introduced into geometry [4]. In fact, many musical scores of twentieth century

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At the beginning of a piece of music, after the clef is marked, the time signature is marked

by a fraction on the music staff [5]. Common time signatures include 2/4, 3/4, 4/4. and 6/8.

The denominator of the fraction, is the unit of measure, and used to denote pulse. The

numerator indicates the number of these units or their equivalent included in the division of

a measure2. Groups of stressed and relaxed pulses in music are called meters. The meter

is also given in the numerator of the time signature [5]. Common meters are 2, 3, 4, 6, 9,

12 which denote the number of beats or pulses in the measure [5]. For example, take the

time signature 3/4. Each measure is equivalent to three (information from the numerator)

quarter notes (information from the denominator). The count in each measure would be: 1,

2, 3. The 1 is the stressed pulse, while the 2 and 3 are relaxed. The time signature 3/4 is

periodicity, proportion, discreteness, and continuity make up a piece of music [4]. Numbers

are also very instrumental, and influence the length of a musical interval, rhythm, duration,

tempo and several other notations [4]. The two fields have been studied in such unison,

that musical words have been applied to mathematics. For example, harmonic is a word

that is used throughout mathematics (harmonic series, harmonic analysis), yet its origin is

Itʼs been discussed that throughout history, mathematicians have long been fascinated

with music theory. This concept will be further developed in the final section of this report,

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Questions and problems arising in music theory have constituted, at several points in

history, strong motivation for investigations in mathematics and physics. This section will

Initially, Pythagorean scales will be discussed. Before the introduction of the tempered

scale, different scales existed and were used for different kinds of music. From the

perspective of European music, Pythagoras is referred to as the first music theorist, so it is

fitting to discuss his Pythagorean scale. The move away from Pythagorean scales and

tuning will then be discussed. Finally, compositional techniques that are steeped in

mathematics (the golden ratio and the circle of fifths) will be discussed.

I N T E RVA L S

When human ears hear a note, they are really perceiving a periodic sequence of

vibrations; sound enters our ears as a sine wave, which compresses the air in a period

pattern [6]. The frequency of this sine wave is defined by the frequency at which maximum

and minimum air pressure alternate per second [6]. Sounds, including notes played by

instruments, do not reach our ears in their pure, basic sound wave. Instead, the noteʼs

exact multiple of the fundamental [6]. Ancient Greeks were not aware of the power of

overtones, which were discovered in 1636 by the French mathematician Marian Mersenne

[6]. Then, in 1702, Joseph Sauveur studied overtones in great detail. In 1878, the physical

properties of overtones were exhaustively discussed by John Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh

(1842-1919), in his book (a classic in the field of acoustics even today) Theory of Sound

[6]. He discovered that the degree to which overtones enrich their fundamentals is

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responsible for the specific timbre and quality of sound produced by a musical instrument,

A musical interval is the ratio of the frequency of the sound waves of two tones, a

fundamental and a second tone that is either a step lower or higher in pitch [6]. These two

notes would be sounded together, or immediately after each other. The most basic musical

interval is the prime, where the fundamental note is played in comparison to itself [7]. The

The next interval (second most basic), is the octave, where the fundamental relates to a

second note that has double the frequency of the fundamental. The ratio of the

fundamental and second note when they differ by an octave is 1:2. This second note, is an

overtone. The higher note of the octave is now the new fundamental note. All overtones

related to this new fundamental, would still be the overtones of the original fundamental

[6]. After the prime interval, the octave is the second most consonant (pleasant sounding)

interval, because our human ears hear all sounds generated by these two tones as

belonging together [7]. When sounded together or right after each other, the two tones of

an octave sound the same to our ears; the two notes are heard to be equivalent, if the

frequency of one is double the frequency of the other [7]. From any fundamental, the

second note that makes a musical interval must sound at least as high as this first tone,

In [2], it is explained that the interval of a fifth corresponds to the numerical ration 3:2. This

can be calculated by beginning with the overtone series of D. The overtone that follows

after the octave is A, which is three times the frequency of D. If this A is played one octave

lower, then the resulting interval D-A corresponds to the numerical ration 3:2.

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Pythagoras, the first real music theorist3 , and his school of thought, were the first to made

this important discovery [4]. Pythagoras found the relation of musical intervals with ratios

of integers, by using the interval of the fifth to create further intervals. Described by a

“[Pythagoras was] reasoning with himself, whether it would be possible to

devise instrumental assistance to the hearing, which could be firm and unerring,

such as the sight obtains through the compass and rule.” [4]

How did Pythagoras make this discovery two thousand years ago, when the theory of

overtones was not known? He used experimentation and mathematics. Walking through

the shop of a man who works with bronze, Pythagoras heard different sounds produced by

hammers hitting an anvil [4]. He implemented his notion of consonance and dissonance,

the fact that two notes donʼt always necessarily sound good together. He noticed that the

pitch of the musical note that was produced by a particular hammer depended not on the

magnitude of the stroke or place the anvil was hit, but rather on the weight of the hammer

[4]. The musical interval between two notes that were produced by two different hammers,

depended only on the weights of the hammers, and in particular the consonant musical

intervals (which, in Ancient Greek music, was the intervals of the octave, the fifth, and

fourth), corresponded with weights to fractions, 2/1, 3/2, and 4/3 respectively [4].

Pythagoras conducted a series of experiments, as explained in [4], using different

4 The Freemasons had great respect for Pythagoras and his teachings.

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For example:

• He listened to the pitch produced by the vibration of strings that have the same

length. Pythagoras suspended these strings from one end and attached weights

to the other lose ends.

• He listened to the pitch of strings, all of different lengths, that were stretched end

quantities of the same liquid. He observed them on “rapidity and slowness of

movements of air vibrations” [4]. Then, he hit the vases in pairs and listened to the

concluded that the octave, fifth and fourth correspond respectively to the ratios

All these experiments agreed with Pythagorasʼ hypothesis, that musical intervals

correspond to defined ratios of integers in an immutable way, whether the integers were

the length of pipes, strings or weights. These experiments conducted by Pythagoras had

results so accurate, that when his experiments were repeated and reinterpreted by

acousticians in the seventeenth century, his results held true [4]. The ideas and

observations by Pythagoras and his school established the relationship between music

Once Pythagoras established the ratio of the octave and the fifth, he used these

relationships and simple mathematics to obtain further intervals. An explanation of the

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The second:

The interval D-A is the fifth, with D being the fundamental. When A is the

fundamental, the interval A-E is the fifth. By a factor of 3/2, E is higher than A,

frequencies of D and E, all that is required is multiplication.

= (3:2) × (3:2)

= 9:4

E must now be transposed down one octave. Recall that the frequency ratio of

the note one octave below the fundamental and the fundamental itself is the

ratio 1:2. Multiplying again gives the required ratio.

= (9:4) × (1:2)

= 9:8

The sixth:

The interval E-B is the fifth, with E being the fundamental. By a factor of 3/2, the

= (E-B) × (D-E)

= (3:2) × (9:8)

= 27:16

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The fourth:

When G is the fundamental, D forms a fifth and the frequency ration G-D has

the ratio 3:2. Inverting this ration, D-G becomes 2:3 (the reciprocal was taken).

∴ (2:3) × (2:1)

= 4:3

any interval with the ratio 4:3 is a fourth

The seventh:

The fundamental C with G forms a fifth. The note C frequency ratio of 2:3 with

transposed up an octave.

= (2:3) × (4:3)

= 8:9

The third:

The fundamental F with C forms a fifth. The frequency of F is lower than C by a

factor of 2:3.

= (2:3) × (16:9)

= 32:27

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Figure 7: Some of the frequency ratios created by the Pythagorean method of stacking

fifths.

Pythagoras used these intervals to create an octave scale of whole tones [6]. On a piano,

this scale would be each white note in the octave. Creating a Pythagorean scale is an

iterative process, where pure fifths are essentially built on top of one another [4]. This

process can give an infinite number of notes, but it is reasonable to stop after one octave

Table 1: The frequency ratios and corresponding notes to make a Pythagorean whole tone

Note D E F G A B C D

Freq.

1 9/8 32/27 4/3 3/2 27/16 16/9 2

Ratio

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D E F G A B C D

Figure 8: The notes of one octave of the Pythagorean whole tone scale labeled on the

piano.

Looking at the piano keyboard above, evidently the smallest difference between whole

The interval D-E is a second, so multiplying the frequency of E by 8:9 gives the

32:27 gives the frequency of F.

= (8:9) × (32:27)

= 256:243

The inversion of the interval B-D (a sixth) multiplied by the seventh D-C gives

∴ the frequency ratio B-C

= (16:27) × (16:9)

= 256:243

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In both of these cases, the resulting frequency ratio is 256:243, and is known either as the

semitone step, or the minor second. This ratio tells us that every 256th overtone of the

lower tones (E and B) coincides with every 243rd overtone of the higher tones (F and C)!

[6]

Now, the rest of the semitones can be added to the established whole tones, changing the

diatonic scale to a chromatic one [6]. This means that the white keys on the piano are

downwards in intervals of fourths and transpose the tones obtained this way until they lie

within the necessary octave [4].

The Pythagorean scale has many beautiful properties. Fourths and fifths, the building

blocks of all other intervals, are all pure sounds [4]. For example, the value of the interval

(3/2) × (9/8) = 4/3

Pure intervals were so highly valued, that providing a scale with the maximum number of

pure intervals because a huge area of research in early music theory [4]. It is, however,

impossible to have only pure intervals in a scale, unless it is short [4]. This is the main

problem with the Pythagorean scale. On instruments whose ranges cover several octaves

(such as the guitar or harpsichord), perfect fifths must be built on top of each other to

create a Pythagorean scale that spans more than one octave [4]. For example, it would be

expected that catenation of twelve perfect fifths (or (3/2)12) gives the same numerical value

as a seven octaves (or (2/1)7). Analyzing this mathematically, it is evident that the two do

not equate:

(3/2)12 ≠ (2/1)7

129.7463379 ≠ 128

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In fact,

(3/2)12 ≻ (2/1)7

129.7463379 ≻ 128

The difference between the two intervals is called the Pythagorean comma, and is

calculated as follows:

The Pythagorean comma is a very small difference, and on most instruments such as the

piano, it cannot be noted [5]. The Pythagorean comma describes, for example, the

difference between the notes G♯ and A. On a piano keyboard, they share the same black

key. Instrument creators have decided not to enrich the scale, and have not stacked more

fifths on top of each other [4] (more black keys have not been added to the piano

keyboard). On instruments such as the violin, for example, such a discrepancy can be

heard. The make-up of the instrument, however is such that this problem can be avoided.

The strings allow for greater precision so a musician cannot commit the sin of enharmonic

change and play a G♯ as an A.

The Pythagorean scale is one example of a scale from Ancient Greece. It is founded using

fourths and fifths, the interval its creators deemed to be the most pure. Defining and

creating a scale evidently involves mathematical calculations, but also relies on arbitrary

thought, such as which interval is believed to be the purest. The Ancient Greeks had many

scales, as each were adopted to different melodies and different types of instruments [4].

The choice of scale determined the character and psychological effect of the music on the

listener [4]. This subtle dependence of a piece of music on the scale chosen, lasted until

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3 . 2 T H E M O V E A WAY F R O M P Y T H A G O R E A N S C A L E S

Pre-renaissance music, such as that of classical Greece, included complicated systems of

and the logic behind each definition is clearly discussed [4]. The Pythagorean scale is one

such example that has been discussed in great detail in the previous section. An example

of another scale, is one made by Aristoxenus (4 BC). Aristoxenus was an Ancient Greek

philosopher and a student of Aristotle. He wrote about philosophy, ethics and music. While

much of his work has been lost, parts of one musical treatise Elements of Harmony have

been found. Aristoxenus created a systematic theory of scales that consist of tetrachords.

Tetrachords are scales that are made up of four notes, which correspond to different

divisions of fourths by tones and semitones [4]. These were short scales, but longer ones

While the composition and creation of scales has differed, scales have always been

considered the building blocks of musical composition (at least in tonal music, pre-

twentieth century European music) [4]. Itʼs been shown that the creation of scales is a very

arithmetic process, yet scales are also a musical language. Many old music compositions

are based on scales, and often contain fragments of scales in various forms. After the

Renaissance, however, Western European classical music began to use a very limited

number of scales [4]. Since the eighteenth century, thereʼs been general acceptance of the

tempered scale [8]. There are two forms of the tempered scale: major and minor. The

tempered scale divides the octave into twelve equal intervals. Two semitones make up a

tone, and the distance between any two tones is a semitone. Each unit in a tempered

scale is a tempered semitone, with a value of 12√2. Any two major scales (or two minor

scales) are simply transpositions of each other on the set of pitches. The piano is an

instrument which uses equal tempered scales.

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1, f, f2, f3, f4, f5, f6, f7, f8, f9, f10, f11, f12

The interval, in semitones, between any two tones of the tempered scale is [5]:

Table 2: Intervals and frequencies (in cents) of the modern equal tempered scale.

Cent

Interval

(from starting point)

unison 0

augmented 4th

600

diminished 5th

octave 1200

! ! ! !

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An octave of a major tempered scale consists of the following pattern of whole tones (W)

W, W, S, W, W, W, S

This scale can begin on any of the twelve frequencies in the octave.

W, S, W, W, S, (W + S = 3S), S

The melodic minor scale differs on the ascent (↑) and descent (↓):

↑: W, S, W, W, W, W, S

↓: W, S, W, W, S, W, W

advantageous which is evident since it has dominated Western music for two hundred

years. An equal tempered scale is perfectly suited to the design of a keyboard. These

scales follow the same pattern, regardless of key allowing composers the freedom to

modulate and transpose up or down without a change in the musical intervals [7]. In

comparison, Pythagorean scales (and others before the introduction of equal

Another argument against equal temperament exists, on the other hand. Professor Ross

W. Duffin eloquently argues against equal temperament in his book How equal

temperament ruined harmony and why you should care [9]. He claims that equal

temperament was a technique that began to be used two hundred years ago to attract

people to play an instrument, yet in using the tempered scale, quality and depth in the

music is lost [8]. A composition will sound flat. Prof Duffin argues in fact, that equal

instruments simple and easy enough that they could play themselves [8], [9]. Furthermore,

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the compositional geniuses of two centuries ago, did not support this move in tuning

system [8]. Bach wrote The Well-Tempered Clavier for irregular temperaments, working in

a wide variety of keys [6]. Instruments in this work would not need to be retuned when you

change keys. The mystical charm of many keys give this masterpiece depth far beyond

that of compositions using equal temperament. In 1766, Bach was still having split key

pianos (with seventeen keys) imported [8]. Haydn is another example of a seventeenth

century composer who shunned equal temperament, since in 1802, he made an explicit

note in the score of Op 77 No 2 Quartet that the celloʼs E♭ should be played as a D♯ [8].

PYTHAGORAS

Two centuries after Pythagoras, French the composer and theoretician Jean-Philippe

Rameau made an important connection between music as an expressive, creative art, and

about relationship between musical intervals and pairs of integers and enhanced it. He

gave a musical context to the entire sequence of positive integers [7].

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Rameau believe that the infinite sequence of integers is elegantly contained in nature,

masked as a series of frequencies [4]. When a rich body such as a voice or instrument

vibrates, a long periodic variation of air pressure is created. The vibration, which is an

acoustic wave, increases and multiplies. When this acoustic sound wave hits our

eardrums, we hear a musical note. When a musical note, for example one that is produced

frequency of overtones is called the harmonic frequency [4]. Rameau discovered that the

harmonic frequencies are multiples of the frequency of fundamental tones, and these

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Figure 10: An illustration of sound waves with different frequencies as time passes. The

bottom, more condensed waves with greater oscillations have higher frequencies than

those above.

For example, take the note C1, which corresponds to the lowest C key on the piano

% % % % f1 , 2 f 1 , 3 f 1 , 4 f 1 , 5 f 1 , 6 f 1 …

Whose values in Hz are:

Human hears can (in theory) hear the first four or five overtones on an instrument such as

the organ. Astoundingly, Mersenne in Harmonie Universelle claimed he could hear the first

nine [4]!

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Rameauʼs theoretical work in sound theory is extremely important, but he could not have

made such discoveries without the work of previous and other academics. In particular, he

used the work of French mathematician Joseph Sauveur. Sauveur was deeply interested

in music and acoustic theory, and has been credited with coining the term acoustique (he

derived it from the Ancient Greek word ακουστός, which means “able to hear” [4].

Sauveur researched the correlation between frequency and musical pitch. Sauveur

understood the phenomen of harmonics in music before Rameau, but it was Rameau who

used it as the basis of his music teaching in his Traité de lʼHarmonie Réduite à Ses

Principes Naturels [7]. All the theories Rameau developed and detailed in his writings, are

based on simple rules which are derived from existence and the properties of the harmonic

sequence.

In his later work, Rameau argued that since the fundamental objects in mathematics are

derived from sequences of positive integers, and since this sequence continues in music,

mathematics is itself part of music [4]. Rameauʼs ideas unsettled other eighteenth century

mathematicians, such as Castel and dʼAlembert, and a rift between these mathematicians

developed [4].

Rameauʼs work, like that of Pythagoras, shed new light on the music theory and provided

a foundation which others could use for their own research. Jacques Chailley, a famous

musicologist and professor of music at the University of Paris, said of Rameau and

Pythagoras:

“In 2500 years of written history, music has perhaps only known two genuine

theoreticians and what the others did was only repackage or patch up their

propositions. The first one in the VIst century before our era, was the fabulous

Pythagoras. The other one died in Paris in 1764: this was Jean-Philippe

Rameau.” [4]

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Music is evidently more than a collection of notes which create harmony. It is about rhythm

and melody, and the changing of notes in relation to time. Interestingly, arithmetic and

geometric patterns can be fond in music and its compositions if examined closely.

constructs an infinite series of integers. A Fibonacci sequence begins with the numbers 1

followed by a 1. Each successive term is constructed by adding the two previous terms.

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A sequence of Fibonacci ratios is the series of numbers produced when each Fibonacci

Figure12: Dividing a line into segments according to the Fibonacci ratio, implies that the

ratio of the length of a to a+b is the same as the ratio of the length of b to a.

r(1) = 1/1 = 1

r(2) = 2/1 = 2

r(5) = 8/5 = 1.6

These ratios converge to a constant limit which is called the golden ratio (also called the

golden proportion, or golden section). The golden ratio is an irrational number which is

defined as:

% % % % ψ = 1.61803398…

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One can observe that the odd terms of the Fibonacci ratio (the 1st, 3rd, 5th… terms) are all

less than the golden ratio, while the even terms of the Fibonacci ration (the 2nd, 4th, 6th …

The golden ratio is a powerful tool as it has a geometric interpretation. Dividing a line into

two unequal parts follows the geometric application of this ratio if the proportion of the

length of the whole line to the larger line segment is equal to the proportion of the bigger

Figure 13: Ancient architectural marvels, such as the Greek Parthenon, used the power of

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The golden ratio is meant to make objects aesthetically pleasing. It is found in geometric

forms, such as in the length of the diagonal in relation to the length of the side of a

relation to the diameter of a tree, or in the physical properties of starfish and pinecones.

When used, the golden ration makes works of art appear balanced and beautiful. It is

found: throughout architecture, such as in mosques and the Acropolis; in book design;

photographs; and paintings. Artists do not always consciously use the golden ratio, but

The golden ratio is a concept that is also found in music. The golden section is often used

to generate rhythmic change or to develop a melody line, and is found in the musical

timing of compositions. The climax of a song, for example, is often found at the point of the

golden ration (approximately 61.8% of the way through a composition). This is often also

the place where significant changes in key or chord structure are placed [10]. A thirty-two

bar song for example, would have its climax at bar twenty. Deliberate application of the

golden ration can be seen in Schillenger System of Musical Composition. It can also be

seen in the first movement of Béla Bartókʼs piece Music for Strings, Percussion and

Caleste where the climax is at the fifty-fifth bar of an eighty-nine bar composition. Many of

Chopinʼs works (his Nocturnes and Études) are also based on the golden ration. The

greatest musical expression and technical difficulty is in the last third of these works.

Finally, there is much debate on whether Mozart used the golden section in his work.

Mozart was a musical genius, yet no one knows how he created his music. Did he use

inspiration from daily events, or did he compose measures of music from mathematical

equations? [10]

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Figure 14: A watercolour painting by Carmontelle ca. 1763, of the Mozart family on tour.

Mozart was a child prodigy, and evidence exists that he was interested in mathematics.

His sister claimed that “Wolfgang talked of nothing, thought of nothing but figures” during

his school days [10]. In fact, in the margins of some of his compositions such as Fantasia

and Fugue in C Major, he made a note of mathematical equations [10]. Studies have been

performed to see if Mozart did indeed use this golden ratio [10]. Results indicate that he

did, but only in some of his compositions. While this does not prove that Mozart

purposefully employed the golden ration, it does imply that in addition to a great interest in

music, Mozart was a genius who also enjoyed playing with numbers [10]. Analyzing the

works of Beethoven, Debussy and other musical innovators in different musical periods

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Use of the golden ratio is also seen in the design of different instruments, including string

instruments such as the violin. The piano is designed using the golden ratio as well.

Modern music tools, such as speaker wires, are also designed using the golden ratio.

Finally, musical scales are based on Fibonacci numbers [5]. Disregarding the first one of

the Fibonacci sequence, the next six Fibonacci numbers are: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13.

% % % %

2nd note ! whole tone two steps away from the root tone

3rd and 5th ! make the basic foundation of chords; based on the whole tone

The dominant note of a major scale is the fifth note. This is the eighth note of all thirteen

notes that make up the scale, and is related to the golden ratio.

8/13 ≃ ψ

This section outlined a the use and definition of the golden ratio. It is a mystical irrational

number, that appears throughout nature, art, architecture, music, etc. Artists and musicians

alike exploit its beauty, either intentionally or unintentionally, to create the most

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The circle of fifths is a concept in music theory which geometrically describes the

relationship of the twelve tones of the chromatic scale with key signatures in major and

minor keys [7]. It illustrates pitch classes of chromatic scales. A circle of fifths is a useful

tool for composers when creating harmonizing their work, creating melodies, building

chords and moving to different keys in compositions [7]. A perfect fifth is a distance of five

steps within a scale, this concept applies to both major and minor scales.

Figure 15: The circle of fifths has been a tool to help composers for hundreds of years.

The circle begins at the top with C major and A minor, and no sharps or flats. Moving

clockwise from the top, the notes ascend by fifths and a sharp in the key signature is

gained until the maximum seven sharps is reached. Moving anti-clockwise, the notes

descend by fourths and a flat is gained until the maximum seven flats is reached. At the

bottom of the circle, six sharps and six flats overlap. This is the enharmonic key

signatures.

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Figure 16: A circle of fourths and fifths diagram for major and minor keys of a diatonic

scale. Moving clockwise around the circle gives a circle of fifths. Moving anti-clockwise

Additionally, beginning at any pitch on the circle of fifths, one passes all twelve tones and

returns to the beginning pitch of ascents are by the interval of an equally tempered perfect

fifth. Ascending by just tuned perfect fifths, results in the circle not being completely closed

by the amount of the Pythagorean comma. Reversing direction, tones can be separated by

a perfect fourth.

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The circle of fifths is typically used in the composition of classical music, while the circle of

fourths is used in the analysis of jazz music [7]. The circle of fifths and fourths represents

diatonic scales, or scales which are made up of seven notes, five of which are whole

steps, and two are half steps with the half steps being maximally separated. The outside

circle represents the major diatonic scales. Rotating this outside circle three spots to the

left creates the inner circle. This circle shows the minor diatonic scales.

Music often modulates, or changes from one key, tonic or tonal centre to another [10].

Modulations articulate or create structure and form in many pieces. They also add depth

and interest to a composition, are are instrumental in keeping the audience captivated in a

musical performance. The circle of fifths is a vital tool for composers, as music often

modulates by moving between adjacent scales on the circle of fifths [10]. A diatonic scale

has seven pitch classes, each being a perfect fifth apart from itʼs adjacent class on the

circle of fifths. Adjacent classes share six of their seven notes in a diatonic scale, and the

uncommon note differs only by a semitone. Modulating by a perfect fifth is therefore

discrete and easy, as only one note would change by a difference of a semitone [10]. This

modulation does not necessarily need to include a change in the key signature [10]. For

example, a piece in A major may modulate to E or D major, the two scales adjacent to A

major on the circle of fifths. Moving to E major, the note D would become sharp. Moving to

D major, the G sharp from the A major scale would no longer be a sharp.

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Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), a French composer and organist, was a great contributor to

contemporary music and thinking. Messiaenʼs long musical career includes thirty seven

fields of music analysis, composition, rhythms (ancient and modern), birdsongs and

theology [11]. Although Messiaenʼs techniques make his music distinctive and original, his

brilliance extended beyond his technique and theory, but deeply affects universal

questions of creativity and inspiration [11].

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Messiaenʼs relationship with music stems from his childhood. After he had taught himself

to play the piano, he began formal lessons [12]. At the age of eleven, he attended the

Paris Conservatoire where he made excellent academic progress [12]. His vast repertoire

Rameau, Isaac Albeniz, Chopinʼs Études, Mozartʼs instrumental works and operas, Claude

le Jeuneʼs Le Printemps. Messiaenʼs greatest inspiration, however, came from the works

(especially operas) of Claude Debussy, who he said had “probably the most decisive

influence on me” [12]. Both Chopin and Debussy used some of what Messiaen called

MOLT throughout their work, which shows the great affect they had on Messiaenʼs style

and technique.

In 1940 when the Nazis occupied Germany, Messiaen was made a prisoner of war.

Throughout his captivity, he met with small groups of prisoners to discuss his creative

ideas, especially his new symmetric scales (modes of limited transposition, or MOLT) and

Ancient Greek rhythmic patterns [11]. It was in this camp that Messiaen composed the

remarkable Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) for the four

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available instruments: the piano, violin, cello and clarinet. After his release, Messiaen

became a professor at the Paris Conservatoire until his retirement in 1978. He has an

Yvonne Loriod5 and Iannis Xenakis. Greek Xenakis, for example, was a famous composer

who Messiaen provided with encouragement to take exploit and utilize his mathematical

Figure 19: Photography of Quincy Jones, an American music conductor, record producer,

musical arranger, and musician. Quincy Jones attended the Paris Conservatoire and was

influenced by the teaching of Messiaen. Jones spent five decades in the entertainment

Grammy Legend Award in 1991. He produced Michael Jacksonʼs album Thriller, which

sold +110million copies world wide. Jones also conducted the hit charity song

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Messiaen was fundamentally a harmonist who was interested in rhythm [11]. His

instrumental music is best known for his slow pace and strange modal melodic contours,

sensuous harmonies, unheard of timbres and registrations, and exotic rhythmic formulae

[11]. He was very well read and travelled, and paid attention to the works and ideas of both

being outside of tradition, but greatly influenced by it [11]. Throughout his work he denies

western conventions, but the creators of the western masterpieces are who he is most

influenced by [11]. In 1942, his unique techniques which constantly evolved were

his investigations into Greek meters from antiquity, modality, and palindromic rhythmic

techniques.

Messiaenʼs knowledge on realms beyond his expertise of music was plentiful. He was

curious about astronomy, and the imagery and symbolic meaning of the stars, planets and

constellations were evoked in his work [11]. This is evident, for example, in Amen des

Étoiles and de la Planète à lʼAnneau which are in Les Visions de lʼAmen which is

composed for the piano. His Roman Catholic faith and nature also both affected his work

[14]. Birds he believed were the greatest musicians of all and had the most beautiful

musical language [12]. As a result, Messiaen wrote several works resembling bird songs,

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Messiaen gave much thought to every parameter of sound, including pitch, dynamics,

duration, and timbre [11]. He was fascinated with time and rhythm, and it is his

contributions regarding time and rhythm that Messiaen made his work so unique [12].

Messiaen compared how composers organize time to how sculptors shape matter. The

ponder the overall rhythm of the work, and then relate the rhythm to a larger form [11]. It is

these ideas and influences which he tried to portray in his unique and evolving

compositional techniques, which formed the basis for his music. His special techniques

were integrated into his musical style, yet he also found and absorbed foreign techniques,

such as Ancient Greek and Hindu rhythms (Śārṅgadevaʼs list of one hundred and twenty

rhythmic units called the deçî-tâlas).

“One point will attract our attention at the outset: the charm of impossibilities. It

pleasures. At the same time, this music should be able to express some noble

sentiments (and especially the most noble of all, the religious sentiments

exalted by the theology and the truths of our Catholic faith). This charm, at once

6“Un point fixera dʼabord notre attention: le charme des impossibilités. Cʼest une musique chatoyante que

nous cherchons, donnant, au sense auditif des plaisirs voluptueusement raffinés. En même temps, cette

musique doit pouvoir exprimer des sentiments nobles (et spécialement les plus nobles de tous, les

sentiments religieux exaltés par la théologie et les vérités de notre foi catholique). Ce charme, à la fois

voluptueux et contemplatif, réside particulièrement dans certaines impossiblités mathématique des

domaines modal et rythmique” (Messiaen, Technique de mon langage musical [Paris: Alphonse Leduc,

1944], p.5)

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Messiaenʼs belief that “a technical process had all the more power when it came up, in its

very essence, against an insuperable obstacle” is the foundation for his technique, which

he called the “charm of impossibilities” [15]. He uses the term “charm of impossibilities” to

explain how in his musical language, “certain mathematical impossibilities, certain closed

circuits, possesses a strength of bewitchment, a magic strength, a charm” [15]. His three

Messiaen, is a result of using mathematics to create structural symmetries in his musical

language [15]. The MOLT are created by dividing an octave into symmetrical groups. It is

impossible to transpose them to all twelve notes of the octave without returning to the

original note of the first transposition [15]. Non-retrogradable rhythms are palindromically

structured rhythms [15]. A palindrome is a pattern that is read the same backwards of

forwards. It is impossible to play rhythm of this form without repeating the original order of

returning to the original one [15]. Each of these innovative impossibilities form a closed

circuit, bringing each musical form back to the origin [15]. The power of Messiaenʼs charm

in each of the three innovations. This effect gave his music an added dimension beyond

time and sound7. Messiaen was using the language and tools of mathematics to overcome

impossibilities in his musical language. These two of Messiaenʼs techniques, which are

mathematical in their nature, will now be discussed: modes of limited transposition, and

non-retrogradable rhythms.

7The dimension beyond time and sound that Messiaen was trying to reach will be discussed further in

Section 5.3: Messiaenʼs Use of Mathematical Ideas to Convey Religious Ones.

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“My passion for the sound-colour relationship drove me to work with these

modes of limited transposition, which people did not understand either, because

changes every time it is transposed.” [15]

Célestes and Des Canyons aux Étoiles for example, noted the colour used in the music

[11]. He did this not to specify which colours should be heard, but to help the conductor

direct and interpret the music. Messiaenʼs sources of inspiration, Claudio Monteverdi,

Mozart, Chopin, Richard Wagner, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky all wrote strongly coloured

music [12]. He claimed that only two types of music existed: music with colour, or music

without colour [12], and at the heart of his music, there must be colour. Messiaen had an

“inner vision”, and saw colour in his minds eye when he heard or imagined music [15].

imagination that was nurtured by fairy tales, poetry and Shakespeare [15]. His perspective

of colour is also largely related to his experiences with dazzlement. As a ten year old child,

he felt dazzled and overwhelmed with beautiful colours when he first saw the stained glass

windows of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris [15]. This was a shining revolution for him, and he

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Figure 20: The Rose window in Sainte Chapelle, a Gothic Cathedral in the heart of Paris

Messiaenʼs MOLT, which appeared from his earliest compositions, are themselves very

mathematical, but his inspiration in their creation came from his sound-colour perception.

language [15]. Messiaen began to use these modes instinctively, and he was guided by

the colours each provoked [15]. Each mode possessed its own characteristic colours,

which change with each transposition [15]. The colours are formed by symmetrical

formulas in the modal domain, and it is this aspect of symmetry that Messiaen emphasizes

[15].

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these modes are formed of several symmetric groups, the last note in each

group always common with the first of the following group. At the end of a

certain number of chromatic transpositions which varies with each mode, they

are no longer transposable, giving exactly the same notes as the first.” [15]

Using the fact that one octave is made up of twelve semitones, and the number twelve is

divisible by various numbers, Messiaen formed the modes by dividing the octave into

different recurring groups, each being a tiny transposition [15]. Each group has an identical

order of intervals, and the last pitch of one group serves as the first pitch of the next [15].

The original form of each mode is called the first transposition, and always begins on the

note C. Each transposition thereafter, begins on subsequent chromatic steps [15]. Each

group within a mode is constructed in the same way, so only a limited number of

transpositions would result in new modes [15]. Thus Messiaen created the term “modes of

limited transposition”. Messiaenʼs seven modes can be seen and characterized in the

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Name Groups Notes per Transpositions of Modes

Group

1 whole-tone 6 2 2 1

scale

2 octatonic, 4 3 3 2

diminished,

semitone-

tone

3 - 3 4 4 3

4 - 2 5 6 4

5 - 2 4 6 3

6 - 2 5 6 4

7 - 2 6 6 5

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Mode 1:

Mode 2:

Mode 3:

Mode 4:

Mode 5:

Mode 6:

Mode 7:

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diatonic scale is a scale with seven tones, five of which are whole steps, and two are

semitone (or half) steps, with the half steps being maximally separated [12]. That is,

between each half step there is two or three whole tines. Taking a major diatonic scale and

transposing each note up a semitone results in each transposition giving a new note. The

first MOLT, the whole-tone scale, has the following notes: C - D - E - F♯- G♯- A♯-C.

Transposing this scale up a semi-tone twice results in the same combination of notes: D -

E - F♯- G♯- A♯- C - D. This is illustrated in Figure 22. The first mode therefore has only

two transpositions. This process is repeated for each of the other modes.

Figure 22: A piano keyboard which illustrates the chromatic transposition from Messiaenʼs

first mode of limited transpositions. Begin on the lowest C where the pink circle is. Each

consecutive whole tone step is shown, and connected with a pink line. Transposing up two

MOLT, two transpositions are all thatʼs needed to return to the original set of notes.

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Messiaen found and defined seven modes, but primarily used colours of four of them:

modes 2, 3, 4 and 6 [15]. Additionally, mode 2 occurs most frequently in his music, and its

first transposition evoked shades of violet, his favourite colour [15]. Looking at Table 3,

mode 2 only allows three transpositions, which possessed for Messiaen a strong sense of

the power of impossibilities. Mode 2 is made up of four groups of three notes (4 × 3 = 12),

and each group contains a half step and then a whole step. The first transposition of mode

2 begins on C, the second on D♯, the third on D, and the fourth on E♭. It is the fourth

transposition that results in the original set of notes. Messiaenʼs colour descriptions of

mode 2 are surreal and mystical, sentiments he wished to convey to the listener [15].

Interestingly, Messiaen found that his immediate predecessors used mode 2 in their work.

In his treatise The Technique of My Musical Language, he points out its use by Rimsky-

Messiaenʼs set of seven modes is a group that cannot be expanded or altered. Messiaen

himself says that no more modes can be found. “Their series is closed, it is mathematically

semitones” [12]. There is an impossibility of further transpositions, and it was this limitation

that fascinated Messiaen [15]. It is a huge limitation, thatʼs been created by the tiny

transpositions used to construct the mode [15]. The charm of the modes, for Messiaen, lay

in the impossibility of further transpositions: their power was “from the impossibility of

transpositions and also from the colour liked to this impossibility” [15].

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“It is one of my favourite discoveries. As in the case of many discoveries, I

simply found something that already existed, potentially, if not in fact. However,

in spite of the very ancient Hindu “dhenkî … and the antique Greek

no one thought of establishing a musical theory of these rhythms and even less

Messiaenʼs second creator of the “charm of impossibilities” makes use of the power of

of ancient Hindu rhythms. More specifically, he found a list of one hundred and twenty

studied these ancient rhythms from North India from “every possible angle” [15]. When he

discovery was, for him, the “primordial element of these ancient Hindu rhythms” [15]. He

found the existence of a rhythmic palindrome, that is, a special rhythmic form that is the

same whether it is read backwards or forwards. Messiaen thus named gave the name the

8 Cʼest une de mes découvertes préférées. Comme cela se passe dans beaucoup de découvertes, je nʼai fait

que retrouver une chose qui existant déjà, en puissance sinon en fait. Cependant, malgré le très ancien

“dkenkî” hindou … et lʼantique “amphimacre” grec … qui sont, en date, les premiers rythmes non

rétrogradables connus - personne ne pensait à établir une théorie musicale de ces rythmes et encore moins

à les mettre en pratique” (Messiaen, Traité de rythme, de couleur, et dʼornithologie (1949-1992), vol. II [Paris:

Alphonse Leduc, 1995], p.7)

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Among the list of the deçî-tâlas, Messiaen identified what he considered to be the first

known retro-gradable rhythm: the dhenkî, deçî-tâla number 58: SIS. Messiaen translated

According to Messiaen,

The entire rhythm contains five mâtras, the Hindu nit for counting these rhythms, and

“Dhenkî is a Bengali word designating a devide for the shelling of rice. This

device is generally naeuvered by two women, the one on the right, the other on

the left, the device between them, just as here the laghu is placed between the

two gurus. Our tâla maybe also reproduces the movement imparted to the

device by the two women, during the shelling… It is without doubt very old, like

all the rhythms based on the number five, the number of fingers of the hand.

The Dhenkî (I emphasize this) is the oldest, the simples and the most natural of

9 “Dhenkî est un mot bengali désignant un appareil pour le décorticage du riz. Cet appareil est généralement

manuvré par 2 femmes, lʼune à droite, lʼautre à gauche, lʼappareil entre les deux comme ici le laghu est

placé entre les 2 guru. Notre tâla reproduit peut-être aussi le mouvement imprimé à lʼappareil par les 2

femmes, pendant le décorticage… Il est sans doute très ancien, comme tous les rythmes basés sur le chiffre

5, nombre des doigts de la main. Le Dhenkî (je le répète avec force) est le plus ancien, le plus simple et le

plus naturel des rythmes non rétrogradables.”

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Interestingly, Messiaen found the same rhythmic pattern in the Amphimacer or Cretic

rhythm of Ancient Greece [15]. The rhythmic pattern in this case was:

Upon further study of these Hindu rhythmic patterns, Messiaen created a principle for non-

retrogradable rhythms. For simple rhythms which have only three values (such as the ones

previously discussed), this rhythmic pattern holds if the outer two values are identical, and

surround what Messiaen called a “free central value” [15].

ሙ

"

When rhythms are more complex and contain more than three values, Messiaen extends

his principle: “all rhythms divisible into two groups, one of which is the retrograde of the

other, with a common central value, are non-retrogradable” [15].

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These rhythms are simple mathematical patterns, yet Messiaen believed they held

philosophic and symbolic importance: they “drew their strength from a temporal

impossibility” just as the modes “drew their strength from a resonant impossibility” [15]. In

his academic writing, Messiaen detailed the three main strength of these patterns [15]:

(i) Because of the identical relationship of the two outer groups of values (which are

retrogrades of each other), closed circuitry is formed. When the two outer values

retrograde can no longer exist, and the pattern is the same whether read from left

or right.

(ii) Because the patterns are rhythmic palindromes, they donʼt change whether

irreversibility of time; whether time moves forward or backwards, the events are

the same.

(iii)Messiaen believed this powerful rhythm could be liked to our temporal life. The

two outer groups in his analogy are the past and the future. The middle and free

central value is the present. The rhythm links past to future with the present in

between. Messiaen claims that we canʼt distinguish the past and future without the

non-retrogradable rhythm without the freedom of a common and central value.

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Figure 24: From Messiaenʼs Oiseaus Exotiques. This example illustrates Messiaenʼs use

of ancient and exotic rhythms. The percussion shows use of Ancient Greek rhythms, and

examples of Messiaenʼs interpretation of the decî-tâla from Śārṅgadeva are also present.

This example also illustrates the accuracy and skill Messiaen had and used when detailing

the bird song. He identifies the exact instruments in the music who immitate certain birds.

The brass and wind instruments, for example, mimic the crested laughing thrush, while the

Messiaen found this power not only in Hindu rhythms, but everywhere around him. Non-

retrogradable rhythms were present throughout life and could be found in: architecture and

the arts; patterns in nature such as leaves, seashells, and butterfly wings; ancient magic

spells which used palindromic words; and even in the human body [15].

Messiaen was a brilliant man. He held new and original ideas about rhythm, orchestration,

modal harmony, melodic writing and form. His versatility and liberalism in sharing his

knowledge and experience made him one of the most eminent music teachers of the

twentieth century.

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Throughout history, music has complemented nearly every religion, and has been

composed for religious use. For example, music is an integral part of Christian services.

Early Christians sung songs such as Phos Hilaron (Greek for Gladsome Light) during early

morning prayers. Christian church services and special ceremonies such as baptisms,

include singing of hymns. Gospel choirs add a contemporary element to music with

religious meanings. Sikhs listen to and sing sacred hymns from Guru Granth Sahib often.

Native Japanese have ceremonial music called Shintō music. Rastafarian music,

Nyabinghi, which connections religion and music has been popularized by artists such as

chanting, dancing, prayer and ganja smoking. Buddhists recite the sutra throughout

meditation or Buddhist ceremonies. Evidently different religions use different forms and

types of music to share religious messages or speak to God.

Conversely, throughout history, composers from different cultures and civilizations have

drawn inspiration from their religion. Popular musicians who currently use religious ideas

to influence their work include: the rock band Kings of Leon, a pop act called the Jonas

Brothers, and different rap artists including Mase.

section of the report. The mystical and religious symbolism of numbers will first be

explored. Then, two religious composers who used elements of mathematics to convey

spiritual messages will be discussed. First, J. S. Bach was one of the most important and

influential European classical composers, and wrote music for the Lutheran Church. An

argument will be presented regarding his use of numbers in his work. Second, Olivier

Messiaen, whoʼs technique has been discussed in section four, was a deeply religious

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man. He used a mathematical layout in his work to convey his spiritual messages. Both of

these composers use mathematical ideas and techniques to communicate with God, and

Since Greek antiquity, numbers have always held religious meaning, and have been used

to communicate and explain the world. In Ancient Greece, the Pythagoreans believed that

the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 were Godʼs “playing cards” [6]. These four numbers were the

building blocks of life; everything on earth was created using numbers. Throughout history,

this concept has remained in the minds and ideas of academics. Galileo expressed his

ideas as follows:

“The whole of Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which

stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless

one first learns to understand the language and to decipher the characters in

triangles, circles, and other geometric figures. Without knowledge of these it is

understand the world around us. Galileo believed that mathematics was founded in

geometry [6]. Geometry, which included lines, circles and points of intersection, can be

detected by our senses. We can see the elements of geometry in our natural world.

Numbers and arithmetic, in comparison, have no direct link to our senses [6]. We canʼt

see, taste, smell or touch the number five for example. We can see the elements we count

up to make five, and mentally connect it to the symbol 5.

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David Hilbert, a brilliant mathematician, provided great insight into geometry: all of

geometry can be explained and incorporated by numbers [6]. All the insights and

conclusions provided by geometry, can be deduced from arithmetic without the tangible

element of sight and touch previously required to detail geometry. This idea has been

extended. Academics now believe that all of intelligible reality can be explained by

numbers [6]. Numbers are the materials God used to create our reality; they are his

explain and understand the world around us.

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MUSIC

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was an exceptional German composer, organist,

harpsichordist, violist and violinist. Bach is considered to be the supreme composer of the

Baroque period of music. His unique musical style was influenced by his improvisation at

the keyboard, exposure to music from different parts of Europe (North Germany, South

Germany, Italy and France), and his devotion to the Lutheran liturgy. Sacred music is at

the centre of his repertoire. He wrote violin concertos, suites, six Brandenburg Concertos,

sacred cantatas, and large scale choral works. Some of his masterpieces include:

Goldenberg Variations, The Well-Tempered Clavier, The Art of Fugue and Mass in B Minor.

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Bachʼs music, and that of other geniuses including Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert,

displays intellectual depth, technical command and artistic beauty [6]. His work achieves

an internal balance. Each phrase has a purpose, making the piece sound incomplete

approach to Bachʼs music would question: can numbers explain the building blocks Bach

used (either consciously or unconsciously) to construct his very religious work [6]? The

Baroque era, of which Bach was the master, was very aware of the symbolic significance

of numbers concerning religion. It soon became obvious that numerical relationships were

significant in Bachʼs work [6]. Every note in Bachʼs work is purposeful. Did Bach use

numerical relationships between sequences of notes to conceal religious messages

Evidence exists that Bach was greatly influenced by his Martin Luther translation of the

Bible [6]. He created a numerological-symbolist disguise for his religious ideas using

knowledge from this translation of the Bible. In his Bible copy 10, Bach underlined all

passages concerning people or events that featured numbers [6]. In this interpretation,

God is seen as a guiding figure, who details and executes his wishes using the tool of

numbers, and this is evident in his resulting product. This inspired and motivated Bach,

who concluded that God was placing numbers at his disposal [6]. With the numbers

throughout this Bible translation, Bach was to construct his own religious music. These

10Bachʼs Bible copy included a commentary from the influential Abraham Calovius (1612-1686). He was a

Lutheran theologian, who held strong views on Lutheran versus Catholic ideology.

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The background knowledge required to present Bachʼs religious ideas through numbers

also came from the philosophy and rationalist thinking of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

(1646-1716) [6]. Leibniz was a mathematical genius, who possessed great originality in his

thoughts. His influence on Bachʼs work can be seen in the compositionʼs permutation of

notes. In this instance, Bach derived guidance from Leibnizʼ work De Arte Combinatoria

(On the Art of Combination), which Leibniz published in 1666 (when he was barely twenty

years old). One such permutation that is often found in Bachʼs music is that of A, B♭, C

and B. This permutation occurs in several forms, particularly the ascent A - B♭- B - C, the

decent C - B - B♭- A, and the cruciform B♭- A - C - B. These permutations are especially

Bach interpreted these set of notes as A, B, C, H, and not as A, B♭, C, B. Notice that his

interpretation of the set of notes form his name: B, A, C, H. It is Bachʼs personal musical

signature, which is illustrated in Figure 27, that can be heard throughout his work [6].

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My Song 7

. =120 Grand Piano

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\\ A

1

O. P. .

& .

B♭ B C

Ascent: My S

. =120 Gran

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a b h c

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& \ . My

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C B B♭ A

Descent:

. =120

5

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Cruciform: % \ O .

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Figure 27: Bachʼs musical signature.

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A famous instance of Bachʼs musical signature is seen in the final counterpoint of Die

%

5

Kunst der Fuge (The Art of the Fugue), in which the final theme is B♭- A - C - B. The

& with the notes C♯- D, which are the next two notes of Bachʼs

theme is then concluded

10

% &

ascending signature. The combination of notes in the final counterpart hints at the notion

of exaltation, or the

15 notion of highly praising someone or something. In his Bible, Bach has

&

underlined the phrase: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that

%

10

&

Bachʼs musical signature can also be seen in the first bar of the A minor prelude from Part

15 Clavier) [6]. This is seen in Figure

28.

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20 &

&

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%

15

&

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Figure 28: Bachʼs name signature in the first bar of the A minor prelude from Part II of Das

Wohltemperierte Klavier.

When played on the piano, the right hand treble begins with a sequence of expressive

pain, incorporating the four signature notes in a descending sequence of semitones. The

first pair of notes, C - B, differ by just a semitone, and the second pair of notes, B♭- A,

also differ by a semitone. In the bass, six descending notes are added, each differing from

the previous note by a semitone. Interestingly, there are ten notes in all, each of which

The final theme to be discussed which uses numbers symbolically, is in the last fugue from

Part I of The Well-Tempered Clavier, which is written in B minor. This theme 11 is seen

below in Figure 29. Another similar theme is found in the prelude before “Es ist

vollbracht” (It is finished) in The Passion According to St John, which is also a prelude in B

minor [6].

11Listening to this theme and “Kyrie” theme of The Mass in B Minor, similarities are evident. This theme

begins “with an arpeggiated B minor triad. The next twelve notes sigh their way through a series of six

stepped minor seconds until the theme ends with an arpeggiated F♯ triad and the return to the dominant of

F♯.”

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signature. The prelude is exactly nineteen bars long, and the fugue in B minor from The

Well-Tempered Clavier is seventy-six bars long (4×19 = 76). In addition, the fugue is

composed of fourteen repetitions of the theme. Remarkably, if each letter of the alphabet

signature appears right through to the end of the final fugue of the masterpiece that is The

the fugue uses each of the twelve notes from the chromatic scale. In numerology, the

• 12 zodiac signs

• 12 months in a year

• 12 = 3 × 4

meaning [6]. Back used the number 12 to represent Godʼs perfection of Creation, so the

number 21 would thus mean the yearning for redemption. Interestingly, there are twenty-

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Furthermore, in the theme of the B minor fugue, the twelve tones number of occurrences

of each note is different. The dominant of B (the tonic) is F♯, occurs five times and this

which is the most frequent of all the notes. The remaining tones occur five times below the

F♯, and eleven times above it. In numerology, five and eleven occur in tragic contexts. [6]

Itʼs been shown how Bachʼs work reflects his deeply spiritual ideas and values. His work is

seeped with numerical symbolism, yet academics argue whether these symbolic

messages are planted by Bach (consciously or unconsciously), or are simply ideas that

Olivier Messiaen and his unique musical techniques have been previously been

investigated. This section analyzes his use of mathematical structures to represent his

Messiaen drew his strength and energy to both live and compose from three sources: his

strong and intense faith in Roman Catholicism; his love of nature; and the myth of Tristan

and Isolde [11]. All three sources of inspiration complemented each other. In particular,

Messiaen aimed to depict what he called “the marvellous aspects of the [Roman Catholic]

faith” in his work [16]. Messiaenʼs life long endeavour to “hi-light the theological truths of

the Catholic faith” was achieved through his compositions [12] Through his work, he

depicted aspects of theology such as sin, but also more joyous ideas such as divine love

ascension, transfiguration, and apocalypse [12]. Messiaen brought modern religious work

out of the church and into the concert hall [11].

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The power of Messiaenʼs musical charm comes from the impossibilities of his three

compositional limitation which exists because of each innovation [15]. Each innovation

formed a complete group, and a closed circuit which would always go back to the

beginning. This was Messiaenʼs way of describing his religious beliefs: with Catholic faith,

Figure 30: Église de la Sainte-Trinité, ca. 1890-1900. Messiaen was the organist at this church

from 1931 to his death in 1992.

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Analyzing his work further, in his paper The Spiritual Layout in Messiaenʼs Conteplations of

the Manger, Siglind Bruhn claims that by examining Messianʼs Vingt regards sur lʼEnfant-

Jesus, Messiaen used musical symbols to represent spiritual messages. The layout of this

piece was carefully planned, as it can be divided further into mathematical cycles, which

As a devout Catholic composer, Messiaen was faced with a sever limitation: it was

impossible while still on earth, to express the truths of his faith [15]. Messiaen used the

mathematical techniques of his musical language, to transcend the temporal limitations of

music, and express his faith [15]. Each technique reflects his belief that “a technical

process had all the more power when it came up, inits very essence, against an

insuperable obstacle” [15]. The foundation of the mystical power of his music was his

limitations using mathematics.

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Mathematics

This section analyzes Jim Henleʼs argument that while music contains many mathematical

elements, it is the fact that mathematics is musical which has attracted mathematicians to

the study of music for throughout history [18]. The focus of this section will be specifically

on Henleʼs study, yet other studies exist that draw parallels between the arts and

mathematics. Henleʼs argument has been summarized, and supported (and therefore

For thousands of years throughout history, mathematicians and philosophers have been

fascinated and attracted to music. For example, ancient Greek scholars including

mathematics, a notion which lasted until the end of the middle ages.

Figure 31: Boethiusʼ academic work c.480. Boethius was a Roman philosopher who lived

from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. He translated Greek authors such as Aristotle into Latin.

the theory of music for the quadrivium. Boethius wrote his own works for study as well.

Among other things, he wrote about the relationship between music and science: the pitch

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After that, many prominent mathematicians, such as René Descartes, in the seventeenth

and eighteenth centuries were also music theorists and wrote extensively not only on

mathematics, but music as well. Discounting the few exceptions of academic composers

whose compositions are based on mathematics, these feelings are not reciprocated and

musicians often do not share the same enthusiasm for mathematics [18]. Why are

In theory, as previously discussed in this report, music and musical techniques can often

be explained by mathematics. The physics of sound, arithmetic of rhythm, and algebra of

scales are examples of such a relationship and have been researched extensively by

academics. Is this as far as the argument goes? Do mathematicians simply see music as

an intellectual mathematically based discipline? One American academic, Jim Henle [18]

“I would argue, in fact, that cause and effect have been confused here. The

Jim Henle claims that the affinity mathematicians have with music is not because music is

something profoundly similar about mathematics and music, which he deducted by the

way the two fields respond to the intellectual currents in society. By analyzing the patterns

in their growth over centuries, he found remarkable similarities which support his claim.12

His claim can be supported with three arguments: mathematics can be defined as an art

12It is important to note that this study is not a mathematical study of music. Instead, it aims to explain the

real affinity between mathematics and music. Henle claims that this affinity is emotional and spiritual, not

procedural and intellectual, with importance placed on the cultural context over abstract principles.

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as it shares many of the same characteristics; as in other forms of art, the history of

mathematics contains different artistic periods; and these mathematical art periods share

many of the same characteristics as corresponding musical periods, but differ from

6 . 1 M AT H E M AT I C S AS ART

Mathematics like other disciplines (science, art, religion, etc.) is complex and comprised of

question, with no one correct answer. The definition of mathematics, rather, depends on

personal views and historical context [2]. Throughout history, civilizations have been

defining and developing mathematics differently, to be used for their relevant purposes [1].

In Ancient Babylon, for example, scribes held the mathematical knowledge. For seven-

hundred years, they kept sophisticated astronomical records on clay tablets which were

stored in huge libraries. Sophisticated mathematics was used to record superficial patterns

methods and concrete objets, and disregarded abstract thinking and deep theoretical

knowledge of how things work. Mathematics was purposeful, and used to solve particular

everyday problems. They, like European civilizations until the Renaissance, used ordinary

language to detail their work, not symbols. The Ancient Greeks, however, were theorists

who studied theoretical aspects of mathematics for itʼs beauty. Pythagoras, for example,

founded a religion of mathematics based on the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4. Pythagoreanism

stated that mathematical structures were mystical, and they followed elaborate rituals and

rules. Reality for Pythagoreans was constructed out of the four sacred numbers. In the

history of mathematics, the 1600s and 1700s brought about a symbolic revolution. The first

mathematical law of physics was invented by Descartes through his study of optics to

explain rainbows. Descartes is also the inventor of analytic geometry. Whereas the pre-

Greek and Greek idea of a number was a concrete group of individual objects, Descartes

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begins to see numbers symbolically, and places greater importance on equations. In the

19th century, “new” mathematics begins to emerge, including negative numbers, irrationals,

and vectors. In the current 20th century, three main views exist to define mathematics:

by Mills, Kitcher) [1].

Evidently, throughout history, the idea of what constitutes mathematics has changed,

science, and the core of science is mathematics [19]. In this case, mathematics is deemed

to be rooted in the real world, to explain and hold absolute truth. Mathematics may not

hold absolute truth, however, as in recent centuries many different types of mathematics

have been discovered. For example, Euclidʼs infamous book The Elements, was believed

to contain the only viable form of geometry until the 19th century [20].

Figure 32: A fragment of Euclidʼs elements, found at Oxyrhynchus, dated to c.100 AD.

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In the 1800s, however, Gauss and his contemporaries went beyond Euclidʼs geometry.

They stated the existence of other forms of geometry such as the geometry of spheres,

which compared to Euclidʼs flat geometry, abides by different rules. Another example of

where mathematics does not hold absolute truth is in the definition and importance of a

number, which has varied greatly throughout history. Hilary Putnam, an important

philosopher of mathematics, claims that we know the power of mathematics, but where it

resides and comes from thereʼs no agreed view [21]. Mathematics, especially modern

Henle claims [18] that analytic examination shows similarities between mathematics and

art.

Firstly, like artists, mathematicians are creators. Some branches of mathematics explain

real-world phenomena, and are thus “forced into being” [18]. In comparison, Henle claims

that similar to artistic inventions, other types of math are created [18]. For example, the

famous mathematician Sir William Rowan Hamilton contributed to 4-dimensional spatial

thinking when he first described quaternions in 1843. Quaternions are the quotient of two

essence, he created a new type of mathematics, using a combination of rules.

Quaternions are the artistic masterpiece which Hamilton created using the artistic tools of

Secondly, both art and mathematics are concerned with expressing ideas [18]. Form,

means, channels and presentation are important and valued. Mathematicians seek

harmony and elegance in the offering of their and ideas. Proofs are described by

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passions vary, each being interested in different fields of mathematics. Different ideas exist

different works of mathematics beautiful (one mathematics structure may be admired for

symmetry, while the other for singularity) [18]. According to Henle, this invites emotion into

the study of mathematics.

6 . 2 M AT H E M AT I C A L P E R I O D S

In his argument, Henle now applies periods in the history of mathematics to four artistic

periods: the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic. In his study, Henle states

that the meaning of the terms Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic have

evolved over centuries. Popular definitions were used, from contemporary sources from

the same cultural context. Standard texts were used in music, art, literature, and

Renaissance Mathematics

Henle states that the Renaissance mathematics period is marked by the recovery of

Ancient Greek mathematics, and this revival was fuelled by the rise of commerce. The

annotation and summarization of the classics from antiquity [18]. To illustrate this point,

Proportionalita (1494) organized and collected work and ideals already known and

respected. He stated that future progress of mathematical ideas was unlikely. In the

Renaissance period, Cardano in Ars Magna (1545) on the other hand, focuses on the

solution of third and fourth degree equations. These were new ideas not previously

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Figure 33: Leonardo da Vinci used perspective throughout his work, and this is evident in

Renaissance mathematics at this time was mainly developed for artists and painters, to

help their two-dimensional art appear to be three dimensional and full of depth [18]. One of

the main results was the geometry of perspective. These ideas were new, and

independent of those of Ancient Greek academics. Key contributors to the thoughts and

ideas of Renaissance mathematics were: Leone Battista Alberti (1440-1472), Piero della

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Figure 34: Albrecht Dürer was a German print maker who made important contributions to

the polyhedral literature in his book Underweysung der Messung, 1525. This is one of

uncommon polyhedron.

Baroque Mathematics

“Just as seventeenth-century philosophers were discarding outmoded ways of

thinking about the world and establishing other more fruitful rationales, the

expanded language in which to cope with the new needs of expression.” [18]

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The mathematical Baroque period also is a time of new expression and of new

mathematics [18]. Before this era, much of mathematical focus had been on geometry.

Fermat (1601-1665) and Descartes (1596-1650) discovered, at this time, that geometric

forms and ideas could be expressed algebraically. Thus algebra, a new mathematical

language, and the field of analytic geometry developed, leading to advances in

mathematics [18].

Grout also characterizes music of the Baroque period conflicting and having a tense

“Baroque music show conflict and tension between the centrifugal forces of

musical composition. This tension, always latent in any work of art, was

distinguishes between the music of this period and that of the

Renaissance.” [18]

With the introduction of algebra, mathematicians witnessed a dual between the new field

mathematics, geometry had been studied in the same form from the time of the Ancient

Greeks to the sixteenth century. It studied concrete ideas and objects, and followed well

encouraged the use of infinities, a notion that was banned by the Greeks. Geniuses such

as Leibniz and Euler proved many fundamental algebraic results. Despite this, the gap

between the certainty of geometry, and the perceived “lack of substance” of algebra

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Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), for example, felt the excess of algebra and its ideas was

Classical Mathematics

“The ideal of music of the middle and later eighteenth century, then, might be

boundaries; it should be noble as well as entertaining; it should be expressive

within the bounds of decorum; it should be ʻnaturalʼ, in the sense of being free

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Classical music should connect with the listener at once, communicating easily and

directly. The listener should have an immediate understanding and appreciation for a

piece. Henle argues that Classical mathematics has the same effect [18]. He characterizes

classical mathematics as not being concerned with theory or philosophy, but simply

motivated by the real world. To support his argument, Henle calls on the work of Kline, who

“Far more than in any other century, the mathematical work of the eighteenth

was directly inspired by physical problems. In fact, one can say that the goal of

the work was not mathematics, but rather the solution of physical problems;

mathematics was just a means to physical ends.” [19]

Mathematicians, according to Kline, “dared merely to apply the rules and yet assert the

reliability of their conclusions” [19]. Mathematicians were content with their results as long

this era has a sense that formal inadequacies in their methods existed. Henle asserts that

complications” [18].

Romantic Mathematics

the unattainable. Just because its goal can never be attained, romantic art is

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For example, these feelings are evident in the painting by Caspar David Friedrich,13

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, Figure 36. This painting is a well known Romantic

masterpiece, painted with the unique content and style of Friedrich. John Lewis Gaddis, a

writer, claims this painting leaves the viewer with a contradictory impression, “suggesting

at once mastery over a landscape and the insignificance of the individual within it” [22]. In

the painting, the audience is faced with the subjectʼs back. Facial expressions are not

visible, so itʼs not clear what the young man was feeling.

Figure 36: Painting by the German Caspar David Friedrich entitled Wanderer Above the

13 Casper David Friedrich was an important nineteenth century German Romantic painter. He is best known

for his allegorical landscapes, featuring contemplative figures placed against night skies, morning mists,

barren trees, or Gothic ruins. Friedrichʼs work aims to convey a subjective, emotional response to the natural

world, and his paintings are often symbolic.

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In a similar fashion to Romantic art, mathematics of this era expressed two main and

important ideas: the infinite and the impossible [18]. Throughout mathematics history

before the nineteenth century, people alternately shunned and embraced the notion of

absolute infinity. Paradoxes, such as those by Xeno, about infinity existed since the time of

the Ancient Greeks, when philosophers would seriously contemplate such ideas [2]. While

the validity of arguments about infinity have been discussed for over two thousand years,

its concepts never rose above philosophy or religion. The first steps to mathematical

success only came in the early nineteenth century with Augustin Cauchy. Great

advancements regarding the infinite happened throughout the 1800s, and by 1900,

George Cantor had laid the foundation for the theory of infinite numbers.

The notion of impossibility was another main focus of Romantic mathematics. Since

ancient times, a series of problems which had not been solved had plagued

mathematicians [20]. For centuries, mathematicians had attempted to solve problems such

as the representation of π with radicals, and proof of Euclidʼs fifth postulate. The early

nineteenth century marked a crucial turning point in the way mathematicians regarded

such problems.

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Figure 37: The cover of Sir Henry Billingsleyʼs first English version of Euclidʼs Elements,

1570.

Euclidʼs Elements was written in Alexandria in c.300 BC. It was comprised of 13 books and

465 postulates from plane and solid geometry, and from number theory. Little of this work

was Euclidʼs own invention. Rather he synthesized two hundred years of mathematical

research, or all the known Greek mathematics, to create a superbly organized treatise

[20]. His work was a self-contained system, that obliterated all preceding works of its type.

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The first book of the treatise began by stating five postulates. They were deemed to be

obvious, simple statements which required no proof. The first four postulates are [20]:

3. Around any point there is a circle

Controversy arose regarding Euclidʼs fifth postulate, however. It lacked the simplicity and

compelling nature of the others, and thus mathematicians felt it could and should be

proved [20]. Euclid himself was unsettled by this postulate, and avoided using it in his work

“If a straight line falling on two straight lines make the interior angles on the

same side less than two right angles, the two straight lines, if produced

indefinitely, meet on that side on which are the angles less than the two right

angles.” [20]

Figure 38: Illustration of Euclidʼs fifth postulate. If two lines cross a third such that the

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The problem of solving this ugly postulate festered for 2000 years, and only towards the

This leave in thought brought logical implications. Henle claims that if one believes 5th

postulate canʼt be proved, then one must imagine the existence of a geometry in which

first 4 axioms are true, the fifth false [18]. If the fifth postulate canʼt be proven, then there

“Mathematicians could accept that the axiom was not probable, yet they could

not make the logical step and imagine a different geometry. This step was taken

the Romantic era [18]. All the pieces required to solve this puzzle were in the hands of

mathematicians for hundreds of years. The problem, however, remained unsolved. It was

Lobachevsky (1827), Schweikart (c.1812), and Young (1860). How come all the solutions

to this problem arose in the Romantic era of the 1800s? The answer, according to Henle,

is that the environment and the intellectual climate of the nineteenth century was very

different from other eras [18]. While all the requisite knowledge was already there, the

requisite imagination needed to find a solution was not present before. Einstein said

“imagination is more important than knowledge” [18]. This statement proved to be true by

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After Romanticism

In his argument, Henle does not describe any era after Romanticism.

“We are still too close to the twentieth century to understand it, especially when

mathematics.” [18]

He claims categorizing this era at this stage in history would be premature [18].

Additionally, after the romantic period, there was an explosion of different forms of music,

mathematics, art and literature. In the twentieth-century, no one genre of any of the listed

artistic forms of expression is clearly most popular. Thus categorization and generalization

6 . 3 M AT H E M AT I C S P E R I O D S VS . MUSICAL PERIODS

The previous section set the context of mathematical history in an artistic context.

Definitions and characteristics of musical eras inspired the search of mathematics that had

the same characteristics. For example, Groutʼs characteristics of the Baroque era were

mathematical Baroque era. When analyzing the times of each era, Henle used the

expertise of music, mathematics, art and literature historians who used the main results

and contributions of each era to date them [18]. Mathematical and music eras occurred at

the same times, while visual art and literature eras occurred together. This is illustrated in

Table 4. It is also noteworthy that this music and mathematic periods began after those of

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MUSIC R B C Ro

MATH. R B C Ro

ART R B C Ro

LIT. R B C Ro

This study does not disqualify any connections between mathematics and other arts such

as literature and visual arts, nor is the only study that analyzes the cultural context of

mathematics [18]. Other writers have discussed the connection between mathematics and

other art forms such as poetry. Scott Buchanan, for example, wrote a book entitled Poetry

and Mathematics. In addition, different writers have discussed the connection between

mathematics and music. Yves Hellegouarch, for example, has written several papers

which detail connections between mathematics and music. One such example is Le

mathematics in the nineteenth century. On a similar note, much literature exists on the

14 Further information regarding specific period dates can be read in Henleʼs study.

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6.4 IS F U RT H E R A N A LY S I S N E E D E D ?

Henleʼs argument draws interesting parallels between mathematics and music. He shows

that music and mathematics share many similar characteristics. Each can be categorized

into four periods: Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic by the works and ideas

of each time. Furthermore, art and literature periods occur together before mathematics

and music periods, which also occur at the same time. The study argues that mathematics

can be an artistic invention, and need not always be thought of in a scientific context.

music, so much so that they were also considered music theorists. Mathematicians

contributed to the wealth of knowledge on music theory, often by writing books and sharing

their ideas. Do mathematical and music periods coincide because mathematicians were

also music theorists? Did the published and shared work of mathematicians influence

musicians? To enhance the argument in this study, these extra area of research can be

undertaken.

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7.0 Conclusion

The report began by setting the stage by describing the historical context of the beginning

of this relationship. Mathematicians are often music theorists, and some basic ideas to

explain this were given. The mathematics in music was then discussed, by detailing the

contributions of Pythagoras and J.P. Rameau, two of the greatest contributors to this field.

Pythagoras and the Ancient Greeks are among the most critical and significant characters

when detailing the relationship of mathematics and music. They were the first to

understand how music can and should be studied as a part of mathematics. Rameau,

unlike others in his generation, continued this thought pattern. The report then outlined

Fibonacciʼs golden ratio and the circle of fifths, two great mathematical tools that are used

possible. Messiaen, a modern composer from the twentieth century, and his mathematical

techniques which he uses to compose his work are then analyzed. In the first technique,

he created his own set of seven modes. The second technique, non-retrogradable

rhythms, are a rediscovery of Ancient Greek and Hindu rhythmic palindromic patterns.

Many composers, including Messiaen and Bach, were very religious. Their use of

mathematics and numbers to convey religious ideas throughout their work was the topic of

the next section. Bach used numbers from a copy of his Bible to weave his religious

message throughout his work. Messiaenʼs mathematical techniques, which he called his

“charm of impossibilities”, were the tool he used to convey his religious ideas, and be

closer to God. Finally, the similarities between thought and ideas of musical and

periods happened in all genres of the arts (including visual art, music, literature and

mathematics), yet mathematics and music went through similar stages of revolution at the

same time in history (later than that of visual art and literature).

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The relationship between mathematics and music is immense. It spans over two thousand

musicians, to music theorists. Research and literature has been published on the different

characters, eras and contributions involved. It would be impossible to discuss every aspect

of the this complex relationship in a report of this nature. This report has thus provided a

“snap shot” of this relationship. Iʼve tried to include the topics I found most interesting, and

that I could best relate to and understand given my mathematics and music training.

Individuals vary in their views on which connections between mathematics and music are

valid, and which are most consequential and significant. Iʼve also discussed the main

events and people, who I think have made a great contribution to this field, all the while

striving to give as broad an overview of this subject as possible. The relationship between

mathematics and music is incredibly interesting, and this exploration is one that could last

a lifetime!

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S O U RCES OF FIGURE S A ND TA B L E S

The following list details the website addresses or books where figures and tables were

found. Details for figures of tables not listed below were created by the author of this

report.

Figures:

Figure 1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoreanism

Figure 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sanzio_01_Plato_Aristotle.jpg

Figure 3: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Plato%27s_Academy_mosaic_from_Pompeii.jpg

Figure 4: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Descartes-moncornet.jpg

Figure 5: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rameau_Traite_de_lʼharmonie.jpg

Figure 7: Taschner, R., 2007. Numbers at work: a cultural perspective. Translated from

German by O. Binder & D. Sinclair-Jones. Massachusetts: A K Peters Ltd.

Figure 8: Created by the author of this report, but ideas and information came from:

Taschner, R., 2007. Numbers at work: a cultural perspective. Translated from German by

O. Binder & D. Sinclair-Jones. Massachusetts: A K Peters Ltd.

Figure 9: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Philippe_Rameau

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S. Shah, 7177223

article.cfmid=17397&highlight=1&highlightterms=&IstKeywords=

Figure 23: Created by the author of this report, but ideas and information came from: Wu,

Jean M., 1998. Mystical symbols of faith: Olivier Messiaenʼs charm of impossibilities. In: S.

Bruhn. Messiaenʼs language of mystical love. New York: Garland Publishing Inc.

Figure 27: Created by the author of this report, but ideas and information came from:

Taschner, R., 2007. Numbers at work: a cultural perspective. Translated from German by

O. Binder & D. Sinclair-Jones. Massachusetts: A K Peters Ltd.

Figure 28: Taschner, R., 2007. Numbers at work: a cultural perspective. Translated from

German by O. Binder & D. Sinclair-Jones. Massachusetts: A K Peters Ltd.

Figure 29: Taschner, R., 2007. Numbers at work: a cultural perspective. Translated from

German by O. Binder & D. Sinclair-Jones. Massachusetts: A K Peters Ltd.

MATH30000! 98

S. Shah, 7177223

Tables:

Table 1: Created by the author of this report, but ideas and information came from:

Taschner, R., 2007. Numbers at work: a cultural perspective. Translated from German by

O. Binder & D. Sinclair-Jones. Massachusetts: A K Peters Ltd.

Table 2: Created by the author of this report, but ideas and information came from:

Olson, Harry F., 1967. Music, physics and engineering. New York: Dover Publications Inc.

Table 4: Created by the author of this report, but ideas and information came from: Henle,

J., 1996. Classical mathematics. The American Mathematical Monthly, [online]. Vol 103

(No 1), pp. 18-29.

Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2975210

[Accessed 19 February 2010]

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REFERENCES

[1] Joseph, G. G., 1991. The crest of the peacock: non-European roots in mathematics.

New York: Penguin books.

[2] Restivo, S., 1992. Mathematics in society and history: sociological inquiries. The

Netherlands: Kulwer Academic Publishers.

[3] Grout, D. J., 1973. A history of western music. London: J.M. Dent.

[4] Papadopoulos, A., 2002. Mathematics and music theory: from Pythagoras to Rameau.

The Mathematical Intelligencer. Vol 24 (No 1), pp. 65-73.

[5] Olson, Harry F., 1967. Music, physics and engineering. New York: Dover Publications

Inc.

[6] Taschner, R., 2007. Numbers at work: a cultural perspective. Translated from German

by O. Binder & D. Sinclair-Jones. Massachusetts: A K Peters Ltd.

[7] Pierce, John R., 1992. The science of musical sound. 3rd ed. New York: W H Freeman

and Company.

[8] Lezard, N., 2008. Why hitting the wrong note matters. The Guardian, 22 November.

[9] Duffin, R. W., 2008. How equal temperament ruined harmony: and why you should

care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

[10] May, M., Did Mozart use the golden section? American Scientist [online]

Available at: http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/did-mozart-use-the-golden-

section

[Accessed 19 February 2010]

[11] Boivin, J., 1998. Messiaenʼs teaching at the Paris Conservatoire: a humanistʼs legacy.

In: S. Bruhn. Messiaenʼs language of mystical love. New York: Garland Publishing Inc.

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[13] Xenakis, I., 1971. Formalized music: thought and mathematics in composition. New

York: Indiana University Press.

process. In: S. Bruhn. Messiaenʼs language of mystical love. New York: Garland

Publishing Inc.

[15] Wu, Jean M., 1998. Mystical symbols of faith: Olivier Messiaenʼs charm of

impossibilities. In: S. Bruhn. Messiaenʼs language of mystical love. New York: Garland

Publishing Inc.

[16] Sherlaw-Johnson, R., 1998. Rhythmic technique and symbolism in the music of Olivier

Messiaen. In: S. Bruhn. Messiaenʼs language of mystical love. New York: Garland

Publishing Inc.

[17] Bruhn, S., 1998. The spiritual layout in Messiaenʼs Contemplations of the Manger. In:

S. Bruhn. Messiaenʼs language of mystical love. New York: Garland Publishing Inc.

[18] Henle, J., 1996. Classical mathematics. The American Mathematical Monthly, [online].

Vol 103 (No 1), pp. 18-29.

Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2975210

[Accessed 19 February 2010]

[19] Kline, M., 1972. Mathematical thought from ancient to modern times. New York:

Oxford University Press.

[20] Dunham, W., 1991. Journey through the genius: the great theorems of mathematics.

London: Penguin Books.

[21] Ben-Menahem, Y. ed., 2005. Hilary Putnam. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[22] Gardner, H., 1948. Art through the ages. London: G. Bell & Sons.

[23] Benét, R., 1948. The readerʼs encyclopedia: an encyclopedia of world literature and

the arts. London: Harrap.

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